Friday, September 11, 2009

An Inconvenient Corpse

If anyone ever tells you that Alfred Hitchcock didn't have a sense of humor, tell him he's full of it and direct his attention to "The Trouble With Harry."

See, the trouble with Harry is that he's dead, and no one seems to know what to do with him. He's just laying out in a field with an apparent wound to his head, and any one of a number of seemingly ordinary people — played by Shirley MacLaine, John Forsythe, Mildred Natwick, Edmund Gwenn — could have been reponsible for Harry's death. And that leads to all sorts of complications.

It's the blackest of comedies and a real departure from Hitchcock's normal style. It does have a generous helping of the understated British humor, evident especially when Mildred Natwick encounters Edmund Gween hauling the body away and innocently inquires, "What seems to be the trouble, Captain?"

True, Hitchcock used elements of humor in his other movies, but they were different. Sort of along the line of comic relief to break the tension. In this film, his tongue is firmly planted in his cheek.

"The Trouble With Harry" wasn't Hitchcock's most successful film, but I've heard it said it was one of his favorites. It was the screen debut of 7–year–old Jerry Mathers (before he became Beaver Cleaver), and it was Hitchcock's first collaboration with composer Bernard Herrmann, who also wrote the scores for films like "Vertigo," "Psycho" and "North by Northwest."

(Incidentally, you can see "Psycho" and "North by Northwest" on Turner Classic Movies on Sept. 22.)

You can see "The Trouble With Harry" on Turner Classic Movies Tuesday at 7 p.m. (Central).

By the way, if you want to see one of Hitchcock's signature cameo appearances, he was still doing them when he made "The Trouble With Harry" in 1955, but you'll have to get through the first 20 minutes or so of the movie before you'll see him.

I think Hitchcock made his cameo appearances in just about every film he directed. In many of his early films, he didn't make his cameo apearance until well into the movie, but at some point it became apparent to him that audiences weren't following the story very closely until after they had seen him so he started making his appearances very early in his later movies.

He wanted viewers to give their full attention to the story.

As a result, Hitchcock's cameos in "Vertigo," "Psycho" and "North by Northwest" occur in the first 10 minutes.

Oddly enough, though, his cameo in his final film, 1976's "Family Plot," came 40 minutes into the story. That was hardly a record for Hitchcock — in half a dozen of his films (all made before 1946), Hitchcock made his cameo appearance after an hour or more. In the last quarter century of his life, all of Hitchcock's cameo appearances were done before the 30–minute mark except "Family Plot." Perhaps that was because it, too, was a comedy.

As primarily a practitioner of the thriller genre, Hitchcock may not have felt it was necessary for audiences to be as focused when watching one of his comedies.

Why don't you be the judge?